The appeal of the blockbuster art exhibitions, such as “The Glory of Baroque Dresden” or “Paris Moderne,” is undeniable. It’s the idea of sculptures, paintings and other objets d’art from some of the most famous European artists in history coming to Mississippi for everyone’s enjoyment.
But Mississippi is home to plenty of smaller, highly unusual art galleries that are available to tourists and residents alike, often in out-of-the-way places, like Attala Arts in Kosciusko, Alice Moseley’s studio in Bay St. Louis or Jiminey Creek in Leland.
The institutions enable their owners to continue to promote or practice their art far from the trendy confines of New York or European art capitals, but how do they do it?
Mark DeLoach, owner of the Taylor Arts Gallery, credits the easygoing nature of the township and its prime location near Oxford for the success of the gallery he opened with his wife, Christine Schultz, in 1997.
Taylor, little more than a single street lined with shops and a restaurant or two, is home to a wide range of artists, including painter Julie Putnam, stone sculptor Jared Spears, landscape painter Jim Daigle, folk artist Johnny Fondren, potter Keith Stewart and husband-and-wife team Alice Hammill and Obie Clark, among others.
DeLoach sells his handcarved wooden furniture in the gallery, and Schultz offers her paintings, photographs and painted fish fashioned from the leftovers from DeLoach.
“They’re scraps and tails of the wood I use in my work,” said DeLoach.
The Taylor Arts Gallery pretty much carries work by artists who live and work in Taylor.
“It’s unusual in that all the art was generated within 200 yards of the place,” said DeLoach, who brings a business sense to the gallery via his degree in economics from the University of Memphis. “We have the same names all the time, but we do enough volume that the work is always changing.”
The gallery’s proximity to Oxford brings in a good many visitors with money to spend during game weekends and alumni events, but a lot of the support comes from local aficionados who appreciate the handcrafted nature of the work and the uniqueness of the offerings.
“I’ve actually found that people are investing in the Taylor Group — that’s the interest for people,” said DeLoach.
And their reputation is growing with about 1,200 people coming through the area on a typical weekend.
But Deloach believes it couldn’t have happened without the support the community gives to artists.
“The people view their little art colony as normal — just like if we were a factory or a lumber mill. There’s a recognition locally that it’s more fun to watch artists rather than your satellite dish,” he said.
Another cooperative group gallery, the Art House in Ocean Springs, works a little bit differently.
While DeLoach manages the gallery in Taylor as his own business while showing the works of his compatriots, members of the Ocean Springs Art Association each work a couple of days a month in the gallery, located at 921 Cash Alley.
Known for artists such as George Ohr and Walter Anderson, Ocean Springs has a long history of supporting unusual art pursuits. The Art House is no exception.
“Everything from pottery to painting to collage — every kind of art,” said Lynn Barnett, who specializes in hand-built clay sculptures after seeing a demonstration and taking pottery classes at the Ohr O’Keefe Museum of Art.
The building housing the gallery was once a rooming house for railroad workers, and the owner let it go to the Art Association rent free for the first few years members exhibited after doing extensive remodeling to the inside, according to Barnett.
“Each artist that was here took a different room and painted a rug on the floor,” said Barnett, noting that the floor paintings are often the first art that visitors actually comment on once they come inside.
The eclectic feel extends even to the outdoors, where yard art created out of debris found in the house during renovations dominates the landscape — a metalwork peacock in a tree, a human figure out front that regulars simply call “The Guy” and an “artist” bearing a passing resemblance to Van Gogh, sitting on his perch “painting” a picture on his easel.
New stock is moved into the gallery on a quarterly basis, giving repeat visitors a chance to make new discoveries on each trip to the facility, Barnett said.
Other galleries in the state dedicate themselves to showing the work of a single artist and depend on scholars and other admirers of a particular style or motif for their public exposure.
One such facility is Mama’s Dream World in Belzoni, a gallery dedicated to the embroidery and stitchery work of Ethel Wright Mohammed.
Mohammed’s work can be seen in two places: the gallery she established in the middle of the Delta and the Smithsonian Institution, which discovered her work and brought it to the world’s attention while scouring the state for examples of folk artists for their 1974 Folk Life Festival.
Mohammed’s body of work consists of more than 200 small-scale embroidery pictures, memorializing her children and other family members in quilt-block size panels commemorating various events in her life.
Carol Mohammed Ivy, who manages the gallery, said that her mother began doing the craft work at age 60 and originally intended to sew the pieces together for a family quilt but came to view the work as a way to promote the art of embroidery and remember days gone by.
“She was trying to create her own pictures,” said Ivy.
Seventy-five of the pieces are on exhibit in Mama’s Dream World, while family members have 125 she created for them, 56 others were donated to charity, and a single panel hangs in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
The museum survives on donations from the tourists that typically come in the spring and fall, sales of limited edition prints and postcards of some of Mohammed’s most popular images, and sales of a book originally published by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which Ivy was recently able to republish with their permission. Of particular interest are visitors from Worldwide County Tours, which come three times a year, according to Ivy. “That brings people from all over the world,” she said.
Another artist with a wide following outside Mississippi is Kate Freeman Clark, whose work resides in the Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery in Holly Springs.
Clark, who studied Impressionism under William Merritt Chase during the late 1800s and early 1900s, left her entire collection of more than 1,000 unsold paintings to be housed in a gallery for the benefit of the city of Holly Springs and Mississippi. The facility greets about 3,000 to 5,000 visits per year, mostly scholars of American Impressionism and aficionados of Clark’s work.
“It’s amazing how well-known she is in art circles,” said Bea Green, a member of the board that administers the trust that oversees the gallery. “She’s considered one of Mississippi’s premier impressionists.”
Only a few paintings of Clark’s were ever sold to the public, mostly at gallery shows she did with others of her school of artists. Such paintings are highly sought after, with one going for over $40,000 at a recent auction in New Orleans, Green said.
The Holly Springs facility occasionally offers sales of Clark’s work at their fundraising gala held every four years. Other revenue sources include donations from visitors to the gallery and a high tea held every year at the facility by the “Belles and Books,” the museum’s support organization. Even though Clark died in 1957, interest still runs high in her work due to how unusual it was.
“We get people from all over the U.S. and foreign countries,” said Green.
It’s a common theme: more out-of-state visitors gravitate to Mississippi’s own artists after finding out about the attractions from Mississippi tourism publications or publicity outside the state.
Ivy credits the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson and the Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg with sending a lot of visitors her way. Others come after stumbling across her Web site, www.mamasdreamworld.com.
Deloach in particular takes a low-key approach to publicity. His gallery doesn’t even have a phone listing, much less a Web site.
“People ask if we’re on the Web… I tell them if I spend all my time making a Web site, when am I going to make their furniture?” Deloach laughs.
Barnett made a comment about the Art House that could just as well apply all across Mississippi for art lovers who venture out from the established museums and galleries in urban areas: “You never know what you’ll see.
Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at firstname.lastname@example.org.